Raymond Banning Remembered
Lorraine Womack-Banning
5th March 2014
Raymond Banning Remembered

As we have just marked the first anniversary of Raymond's death, I would like to remember the huge contribution that he made to the world of Classical Music during his career which was tragically cut short with a diagnosis of Pick’s Disease (a rare, rapidly progressing, form of dementia).

Until his shock diagnosis in May 2010, Raymond had been a Professor of pianoforte at Trinity College of Music for over 20 years. Performing his first Concerto in his teens, Raymond went on to study piano with Celia Arieli and Steven Savage at The Royal College where he also studied conducting with Vernon Handley. Raymond went on to forge a career which included sell out piano recitals at London’s Wigmore Hall, St John Smith’s Square and West Road and Madingley Hall in Cambridge. Not only were audiences bowled over by the beauty of Raymond’s playing and his stunning use of tonal colour on the piano, but these concerts benefited thousands of people as Raymond was a man with a huge social conscience who always donated his concert earnings to charity.

Raymond and Lorraine

Amongst the many charities to benefit from his generosity were Missing Persons’ Helpline, The National Schizophrenia Fellowship, The Disasters Emergency Committee and The Macmillan Primrose Unit in Bedford.

At the age of just 25, Raymond was appointed Conductor of a Professional Orchestra in Kent, a post he held for 10 years, during which time his personal highlight was conducting a performance by Maura Lympany.

Raymond continued to conduct amateur orchestras and choirs for most of his career. Working with amateurs was something he was passionate about, and his ‘Piano weekends’ which he ran with ‘Oldie’ magazine editor and good friend Richard Ingrams, were a huge success for many years until his health began to deteriorate.

Another successful project was his concerts of music and words performed with various friends, these included performances with actress Stephanie Cole, tours with Ian Hislop and Richard Ingrams, a project with actor Edward Fox based on the T S Eliot 4 Quartets, and a tour of Playing to The Gallery – a play about the life of pianist Myra Hess in which he performed with Stephanie Cole and Patricia Hodge.

In addition to being a kind, patient and encouraging teacher, Raymond was, for many years, a popular and busy mentor for the ABRSM, training many piano teachers both in this country and in Hong Kong.

Sadly, the rapid progression of his illness ended Raymond’s career soon after his diagnosis. Several stories were published in the national press about his condition, but at this point it is enough to say that those were incredibly difficult years during which we faced enormous battles and struggles. Throughout this time though we were thankful for the fact that Raymond retained his ability to play the piano, to understand, enjoy and be able to communicate through music as his language skills began to fade. As I am a pianist myself, we continued to play duets and share our mutual love of music until the very end of his life.

Dementia is a very isolating condition, but one place where there was complete acceptance was at the Music For Memory sessions which we attended together and as a way of giving back to them for the wonderful, enabling and accepting times we had there, I have now become a volunteer for this amazing group which is part of The Tibbs Dementia Foundation. (Email tibbs.dementia@hotmail.com for more information about how music can be used to enable and communicate with people suffering from dementia.)

Music is a powerful and profound way of communicating with and empowering people who are suffering from the devastating effects of dementia and many other conditions affecting the brain. By a strange twist of fate (or destiny perhaps), I had once worked in a children’s hospice and am trained to use music therapeutically in palliative care. This helped me enormously in enabling Raymond to continue to access music throughout the duration of his illness right to the very end of his life.

We (my sons and I) are also very grateful for the help and support we received from both Help Musicians UK and the ISM Members Fund during those very difficult times. On a practical level, huge financial difficulties arise for self employed musicians when illness strikes. Though I was very reticent at first to ask for help, I was strongly encouraged to do so and in truth, we could not have managed without this help. I would encourage any musician facing difficulties through ill health to contact these organisations.

We miss Raymond terribly but know that the years of hard work and dedication he gave to the music world has touched the lives of many students, teachers, audiences and beneficiaries of his charitable donations. We are proud of his work and blessed to have been part of his life, we will continue to support all that he believed in. Raymond continues to be my inspiration in my own musical journey. We hope that his colleagues, students, and all who benefited from his wonderful talent, kindness and generosity will continue to remember him with the respect and affection he so deserved.